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Ophthalpreneurs: On the Ascendancy

Ophthalpreneurs are “trailblazers within the field of ophthalmology who, driven by their boldness and determination to challenge the status quo, champion the optimization of vision performance as the new standard of care.” The brainchild of Amanda Cardwell-Carones and Francesco Carones, Ophthalpreneurs has grown in less than a year from a concept to a fully-fledged meeting, with its inaugural event held at the Regina Palace Hotel, Stresa, Italy, in March 2024.

The event, which covered four key areas – Foundations (Laying the Cornerstones for a Successful Practice); Finances (Striking a Balance Between Efficiency and Innovation);  Empower Choice (The Art of Patient Education); and Growth (Igniting the Engine and Fueling Growth) – attracted 200 ophthalmologists from around the world, far exceeding original expectations and immediately establishing Ophthalpreneurs as a force to be reckoned with. Following the meeting, The Ophthalmologist sat down with Amanda and Francesco Carones to discuss their takeaways and to determine how the Ophthalpreneurs path is set to evolve from here.

Headshot supplied by Francesco Carones

What is Ophthalpreneurs – and how was it conceived?

Francesco Carones (FC): Everything started really because we were disappointed with a major ophthalmology society not really being willing to go deeper into the kind of content that we believe entrepreneurs are interested in. We had proposed a course to this society and it was rejected, so we said, “OK. We’re going to do something ourselves.”

We didn’t figure out straight away where to take this idea, but we wanted to group together all the stakeholders in private ophthalmology with a view to developing the quality of services that we are offering to patients who are paying out of pocket. We knew that we didn’t want to be identified as a society, but more as a community. We started calling on good friends in the industry, and they called their friends, and this community started to build by word of mouth – exactly as it happens, actually, in private ophthalmology, where your best advisor is your private patient who is using his or her word of mouth to expand your business.

Headshot supplied by Amanda Cardwell-Carones

Amanda Cardwell-Carones (ACC): It all gained momentum and traction a lot faster than anything we could ever have envisioned. All of it was done, as Francesco says, via word of mouth or organically through LinkedIn. As soon as people started posting on social media about it, everything exploded. Initially, we thought we’d probably get 50 people to attend. But we ended up having 200 people register; here, the important thing to note is that every one of them paid their own way, which I think is testimony to how much this event – or community – is needed. In fact, when I say community, I’m tempted to use the word “tribe.” Ophthalpreneurs is about people feeling a part of something that is bigger than them, but includes people who understand the circumstances in which they operate.

What were your takeaways from this first gathering? What worked well and what may need to change?

ACC: With this first meeting we went horizontal, taking a broad approach. In future meetings, we want to go vertical – diving deeper on certain topics, with workshops and plenary sessions each day. For example, if we have a presentation on personal branding, we would follow it with various workshops on the same topic.

In terms of location, we’ve pretty much decided that we want to keep Ophthalpreneurs in Italy, at least for the next one (and perhaps permanently). I like the idea of people asking, “Are you going to the Italy meeting?”

We may move from city to city, but the challenge is finding a location that can accommodate the volume of people and still give the same flavor of intimacy.  
In terms of growth, I don’t know if we want to get much bigger than where we are already; we don’t want to reduce the level of interaction in the plenary sessions or dilute the opportunity for everyone to group together for cocktails and dinner – and for the chance for everyone to get to know each other better. I guess a question for us at the moment is how big do we want this to be?

FC: I would say we want Ophthalpreneurs to be inclusive, but exclusive. You know, when you attend the big shows like AAO or ASCRS or ESCRS, there are people there that you know but you don’t even get to see them…

ACC: That’s right, a couple of people have said to me that they don’t go to the big congresses anymore. “We don't learn anything from them.” Instead, they say, “We go to the city where the event is taking place, and spend the money that we would have spent going to the Congress on getting a nice hotel and enjoying the city during the day. Then we go to all of the industry activities after the Congress closes and we get value from that because we're networking.”

FC: We have tried to be as objective as possible about the event feedback and what we have taken away essentially is: “Well done – but what’s next?!” As Amanda says, we need to dive deeper into the topics – and I’m not afraid of that! I feel there is plenty of opportunity to stage these deeper dives – there is more meat to cook on the fire!

ACC: My vision is that, going forward, we don’t want to involve only ophthalmologists – we are focusing on them now because they are the easiest to reach – but also more people from the industry side, from the investor side, the administrators, and the technicians. One of the most impressive bits of feedback that Francesco received was from a representative from one of the Swiss-Italian family funds, who said, “It shouldn’t have been me attending this, but someone from our senior leadership.” He could see the caliber of people who were attending and realized that this was a very high-level entrepreneurial meeting.

What was the geographical spread of the attendees at this first event? Did they come from further afield than you were expecting?

ACC: They did! We were initially expecting it would be mostly people from Western Europe, and mostly from Italy. So, we were surprised to see that the Italian participation was not higher than maybe 8 percent attendance. We ended up having people from around 30-odd countries, including South Africa, the US, Brazil, Argentina, and even Australia.

At the meeting, you invited everyone to contribute to defining what Ophthalpreneurs really means. How has this definition evolved since then?

ACC: Yes. We truly wanted to make this for the stakeholders by the stakeholders. The vision statement that we voted on was, “The Global Community of Vision Care Stakeholders.” We have refined it to become “OPHTHALPRENEURS:  The Global Community Leading Business Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Private Ophthalmology.”

It was important to us to clearly differentiate what we do from what other societies and organizations focus on. Our values are:

  • Innovation
  • Entrepreneurial spirit
  • Collaboration
  • Patient-centricity

Ophthalpreneurs will be returning to Italy (Taormina) in March 2025.

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About the Author
Julian Upton

Julian Upton is Group Editor of The Ophthalmologist and The New Optometrist. With 20+ years' experience of the magazine industry, he has covered many facets of science and healthcare.

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